Rise of the Machines

  • by Thomas Rid
  • Narrated by Robertson Dean
  • 12 hrs and 59 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

As lives offline and online merge, it's easy to forget how we got here. Rise of the Machines reclaims the story of cybernetics, a control theory of man and machine. Thomas Rid delivers a portrait of our technology-enraptured era.
Springing from mathematician Norbert Wiener amid the devastation of World War II, the cybernetic vision underpinned a host of myths about the future of machines. This vision radically transformed the postwar world, ushering in sweeping cultural change. Cybernetics triggered cults, the Whole Earth Catalog, and feminist manifestos just as it fueled martial gizmos and the air force's foray into virtual space.
As Rid shows, cybernetics proved a powerful tool for two competing factions - those who sought to make a better world and those who sought to control the one at hand. In the Bay Area, techno-libertarians embraced networked machines as the portal to a new electronic frontier. In Washington, DC, cyberspace provided the perfect theater for dominance and war. That "first cyberwar" went on for years - and indeed has never stopped. In our cybernetic future, the line between utopia and dystopia continues to be disturbingly thin.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Seamlessly weaves a tapestry from many pieces

This book deserves to be read and not ignored as this one seems to be. To understand where we are going sometimes one must first understand how we got there.

The author uses a chronological approach by decade and seamlessly ties each of the stories together as if he is a writing a brilliant work of fiction with an overriding narrative leading to a beautiful quilt made of many different tapestries.

He starts the story within WW II and the necessity for an artillery gun to anticipate the movement of manned airplanes and takes the listener through many other excursions such as L. Ron Hubbard and Dianetics (and Scientology), Ashbey's Homeostasis contraption (a complicated machine that was said to be alive because of it's innate ability to reach complex state of equilibrium after systematic perturbations, a fascinating story and well told), LSD and Timothy Leary, Psycho Cybernetics (a book in almost everyone's house for all of the 1970s), The Whole Earth Catalog, "The Monkey's Paw Story" (you can watch a version on Youtube) and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" and how they relate to our cybernetic advancements, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy, the default standard for encryption), and many other fascinating stories all seamlessly woven together.

The author does an amazing job of weaving the stories as a coherent whole and also does a summary chapter explaining how all the pieces fit together. Not to spoil it for the listener, but his theme is along the lines that humans first use tools (such as a peg leg on a pirate or a club in the hands of the baseball player) and slowly makes the tools interact more "magically" with the human, then the next step is the machine itself became the tool, and then the "network is the computer" (not his words, but a slogan from the 90s for Sun Microsystem that seems appropriate) and finally the community itself becomes completely connected and tends towards an organic system as a whole.

Overall, a fine book and deserves to have a larger audience than what it seems to be achieving, and is more satisfying than most of the recent pop science books I've been reading lately.
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- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"

Good history lesson on cybernetics.

Really enjoyed the the details provided for the past 70 years.
Sometimes it felt as a history lesson and jumped around at times.
Recommend this book to those who are interested in knowing how it all started.
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- Victor Mesa Fernandez

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-28-2016
  • Publisher: Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books